Illinois Manufacturing Lab Announces the Next Round of Projects, Publishes Results from Case Studies

Advanced Manufacturing Assistance Available to Illinois Manufacturers; Initial Projects Show High Returns on Investment

CHICAGO – March 3, 2016 – The Illinois Manufacturing Lab (IML), a partnership between UI LABS and the University of Illinois with support from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), today announced a second round of advanced manufacturing research projects targeted toward small and medium manufacturers (SMMs).

“At UI LABS, we understand how digital technologies are transforming industries like manufacturing,” said Caralynn Nowinski Collens, M.D., Chief Executive Officer of UI LABS. “The Illinois Manufacturing Lab empowers small and medium manufacturers across the state by taking advances in digital manufacturing and getting them into the hands of these business owners.”

IML is looking for opportunities to assist Illinois small businesses in the areas of Toolpath Optimization and Modeling and Simulation. Research will be conducted by university experts and third-party engineering service providers to assist small businesses to solve challenging problems that are having a direct effect on their competitiveness. The objective of the research efforts is to facilitate use case development for new online capabilities that will be incorporated into the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute’s (DMDII) Digital Manufacturing Commons (DMC).

“The resources and technical assistance available at the Illinois Manufacturing Lab help small businesses reduce costs and increase productivity, while creating research that will make Illinois manufacturing as a whole more competitive,” Illinois Department of Commerce Director Jim Schultz said. “The second round of research projects will continue to build on the IML’s previous successes and drive developments in advanced manufacturing in Illinois.”

University of Illinois at Chicago Physics Professor George W. Crabtree, Ph.D., and Illinois Applied Research Institute (ARI) Director Jeffrey L. Binder, Ph.D., will be providing logistical and strategic support to the initiative. “Collaborations between the research community and the private sector are vital to solving major industrial challenges. This next phase of IML seeks to do just that,” said Crabtree, who also holds an appointment at Argonne National Laboratory as Director of its Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR). “We look forward to lending the expertise and insights of ARI to make this set of IML projects a success,” added Binder. ARI is based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This next set of projects will build upon the success of the first round of research emerging from the IML. Case studies for projects led by Tek Pak Inc. and other Illinois companies demonstrate tremendous gains in productivity and cost savings.

In the case of Tek Pak, located in Batavia, Illinois, an investment of less than $10,000 resulted in efficiency returns valued at over seven times the initial cost. The IML project team used multiple software applications to analyze the machine, holder, cutting tool, and cutting fluid that Tek Pak was using to machine a thermoform mold, and made recommendations to improve efficiency. The actual impact of the project on reducing machining time was far greater than the estimate, resulting in efficiency gains valued at $72,000 per year.

For Tek Pak, learning the vibration frequency of the tools was important. By knowing the stable speeds, machinists can now run the tools about 50 percent faster without a decrease in tool life, saving about 20 hours of machine time each week. After seeing the financial impact of the pilot project, Greg Perkolup, Thermoformed Product Development Manager at Tek Pak, indicated a desire to implement the technology on three additional machines. He remarked, “If we can save an additional $100,000 with a $12,000 investment in software and training, that would really impact our business.”

UI LABS is requesting problem statement proposals from Illinois manufacturers interested in participating in the current round of projects. Project areas include:

Toolpath Optimization

Waste in the tool path process costs a company both time and capital due to cost of machine utilization time and excessive tool wear. Advances in computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) technology and software allow for rapid analysis of machine data to optimize tool paths and increase efficiency. IML plans to demonstrate an advanced manufacturing concept that could significantly reduce the cost of conducting a tool path optimization effort on an existing production line through the use of an online template available on the DMC. Illinois SMM’s are being asked to submit problem statements for consideration that describe their machining process and areas where they believe tool path optimization would significantly impact their business.

Modeling and Simulation

Modeling and Simulation technologies allow for faster and less costly evaluations of the performance, manufacturing processes and other factors associated with producing a future product’s conceptual design. IML is looking for companies that have existing products, manufacturing processes, or new design concepts that would directly benefit from the application of advanced Modeling and Simulation technology. Illinois SMM’s are being asked to submit their problem statements for consideration under a new approach involving online software-as-a-service (SaaS) based Modeling and Simulation. The challenges can span the entire realm of Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Engineering (CAE), including concept development through design validation.

Submissions are due no later than April 7, 2016. The problems must be clearly described in order for an independent evaluation team to assess the probability of completing the project objectives within a five-month timeline. Instructions on how to apply and the information to include in the application, as well as additional details on case studies from previous projects, are available at



UI LABS solves large-scale challenges by bringing University + Industry together with startups and government to accelerate the deployment of emerging technologies through collaboration. UI LABS is developing a portfolio of applied research and commercialization Labs that lead to a return on investment for its partners, improve local, regional and national competitiveness, and transform entire industries.

In February 2014, UI LABS announced the formation of its first Lab, the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), through collaboration with the Department of Defense and a host of other partners, to transform American manufacturing through digitization of the supply chain. UI LABS’ second Lab, City Digital, launched in 2015 to enhance how citizens live, work, and play by digitizing the built environment and transforming cities across the world. Across both Labs, UI LABS has 200+ members from industry, academia and research institutions, states and cities, and community organizations. Learn more at



The Illinois Manufacturing Lab (IML), a partnership between UI LABS and the University of Illinois, is a program that helps equip Illinois small and medium manufacturers for the new realities of the changing manufacturing sector. The IML provides advanced manufacturing solutions to the Illinois manufacturing sector to increase their competitiveness, productivity, and profitability. Learn more at